The money, which dwarfed expectations by fund-raisers, reflects not only an ongoing concern about Israel among American Jews, but also a strong connection between the Jewish community of Boston and the northern Israeli city of Haifa. The Jewish communities in the two cities have had a partnership since 1989, and that relationship probably increased the response to the fund-raising initiative, officials said.
"Sure there was criticism, and a lot of very decent, very good people had some disagreements, but there was broader support for Israel during this conflict than I've seen since '82," said Barry Shrage, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, which led the fund-raising effort. "People feel a lot of personal connections to Haifa, and they knew where the money was going, so that was one reason people were knowledgeable and supportive."
The fund-raising included aid for food, medical supplies, and air conditioning for bomb shelters, and trauma counseling and medical equipment for two hospitals; funds will also be used to strengthen the buildings' ability to withstand rocket attacks, among other projects.
The effort also hopes to provide assistance to children, new immigrants, and the disabled as well as small businesses affected by the conflict. In addition, it could fund Jewish-Arab dialogue in Haifa.
One project was funded by Temple Emanuel in Newton, a conservative synagogue that raised money to build a secure room with fortified walls and ceilings that could withstand rocket attacks for congregation Moriah, in Haifa. Built in 1952 atop Mount Carmel, it is the oldest conservative synagogue in Israel.
The Newton congregation set a fund-raising goal of $50,000 for the room, and raised nearly three times as much, $140,000, through requests during the recent Jewish high holidays. Temple Emanuel leaders, who previously helped finance bar mitzvah ceremonies for Haifa children with special needs, are now trying to determine which projects to fund with the extra money, and are planning to visit the region in December.
"American Jews look at their 18-year-old kids and worry about what fine university they will attend, while Israeli parents worry about their kids being in a tank that will be destroyed by a missile or fighting Hezbollah in hand-to-hand combat," said Rabbi Wesley Gardenswartz of Temple Emanuel. "Many American Jews really feel that we are one people, and there's a certain guilt and discomfort, and a sense that we should do something to be helpful. So this is something we can do, we can make one community in Israel safer."
The Haifa congregation plans to build a room that can be used by youth groups during peacetime and by the congregation, as well as nearby kindergartens, during war.
During the conflict with Hezbollah, " we were unable to hold worship services in our synagogue, since we do not have a secure room or bomb shelter, and the law forbade congregating without a nearby shelter," Shlomo Maital, a lay leader at the Haifa congregation, said by e-mail. "We were quite upset that we could not pray in our own shul. In time of war, our congregants take comfort from worshiping together and prefer to do so in our own shul."
Leaders of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies decided to delay the start of their regular annual fund-raising because of the conflict.
"It was surreal that we were talking about business as usual while a war had broken out and there were rockets landing everywhere across northern Israel, so we decided we had to delay the campaign and focus on the emergency," said Seth A. Klarman, the president the Baupost Group, an investment firm, and a member of the CJP board. "I do think that Jews in America, in the wake of 9/11 and the victory of Hamas and the war with Hezbollah, understand that the fate of Israel is extremely connected to their own fate as Jews anywhere."
CJP allocated about $4 million for food, medical supplies, and counseling during the conflict, for economic aid to small businesses, and for assistance to area hospitals and universities. Shrage said the Jewish community would look to help finance aid for the special-needs population in northern Israel, and for economically disadvantaged Ethiopian Jews.
A similar fund-raising effort for Israel by the CJP during the second Palestinian intifadah, or uprising, in 2002, raised $6 million.
© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.